(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Last time we talked about some cars that I helped my father restore either for resale or for keeping. Cars seem to be a popular topic here, so we shall continue this theme about cars that were mine back in the day when I was growing up. These days my car choices aren’t quite as exciting as they used to be, but that doesn’t mean that yours don’t have to be. In fact, if you were to have a look on somewhere like Intelligent Car Leasing, you could find some great lease deals on some awesome cars that could soon be yours.
I have also decided to define my “growing up” period from birth to when I was 20 years old. I have chosen this somewhat arbitrarily, but since I married at 20 it seems to be a pretty good choice. Realistically, I do not think that anyone is grown up at 20, but I have to make some sort of demarcation.
The Willys Jeepster mentioned last time was to be my first car, but for reasons explained then that was not to be. My actual first car, other than driving my parents’ cars and trucks was a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 180D. The “D” stands for diesel, and that was the first real car of my own, although my parents had the title in their names. Here are some pictures of what it looked like, but these are not of my particular car:
These pictures are pretty much just thumbnails, but you get the idea. On the third one, note the horizontal lever just to the right of the steering wheel. That is the starter lever, and to start this car the key had to be turned on, then the lever pulled down to halfway. This heated the glowplugs which in turn heated the fuel injectors to warm the diesel fuel. Once the green light came on, the lever was pulled all the way down to engage the starter motor. Once it started , you pushed it back to the neutral position. It is hard to start a diesel engine with cold fuel.
Once it started, it was good to go. Except the starter was sort of hinky on my car. The glowplugs worked every time, but in retrospect I think that the starter solenoid was beginning to fail, so sometimes I would have to push start it. Since it was a four speed manual, that was not difficult. More on that in a bit.
One major defect that my particular car has was that the heater did not work. That was fine in the summer, but in winter was HORRIBLE! I always wore a wartime coat (US Army issue, pure wool, mid calf length) in winter when I drove it because you would just freeze to death otherwise. Even with the coat, and sometimes a lap blanket, it was still cold. But at 16 years I was thrilled!
There were no Mercedes-Benz dealers in Fort Smith at the time, so I had to go to Fayetteville, about a 90 minute drive at the time, to get parts. The felts that padded the windows had deteriorated, and I drove up there with the late Scott Nicholas and bought new felts. With no heater, the cold air blowing inside from the windows made it even worse in winter.
Being a kid, I had little money for fuel. In a gasoline car of the time, running out of fuel was not a big deal, but in a diesel car it was a disaster. You can not just put more fuel in the tank and start up, because the fuel injection system would not open the injector seats if there were any air in the fuel lines. I ran out of fuel twice, and it took over an hour to get it restarted. You had to bleed the air out of the line from the tank to the first filter, then close the bleeder valve, then bleed the air to the second filter, and close the bleeder valve there. Then you had to bleed the air from each injector, one at a time, and close each bleeder valve there, too. Good luck if you had to do that at night!
I mentioned doing roll starts earlier. Most folks do not know this, but diesel engines, since there is no electrical distributor, can run forwards as well as in reverse. One time, and I swear that this is true, I accidentally had put the car in reverse rather than low gear for a roll start. It started, all right.
As I got ready to drive away, I found that I had four reverse gears and one, very low, forward gear. Not long after that discovery, I noticed a huge cloud of white smoke coming from the engine compartment. I had succeeded in completely reversing the sense of the engine rotation, and the car was taking in air from the exhaust and outputting it through the oil bath air cleaner! I stopped the engine, and redid the roll start. I got it right that time, but that car was not really practical. It was cheap to drive though, because I would take a 55 gallon drum to the farm supply store and fill it with untaxed diesel fuel.
The next car that I had was a beautiful 1964 Chevrolet Bel Air. That was a beautiful car, and look just like this image, except mine was a four door:
It had a 283 cubic inch displacement engine, one of Chevrolet’s finest, and a two speed Powerglide automatic transmission. I liked that car very much, and named it “Leaper” (after the slang name that the character “Jimmy” in the wonderful album by The Who, Quadrophenia, called his stimulants) because it would go so fast so quickly. It only had a two barrel carburetor, but it would go! It was also roomy. At the time, they were not “boats” like they became in 1965. I found it to be a nimble, responsive, and wonderful car.
Those are classics now, and I wish that I still had it. My dad had other ideas, though, and he sold it and bought me a 1967 Camaro instead. At first I was a bit hesitant, because I liked Leaper very much. I have to tell you a little about Dad. He was a wheeler-dealer, and hardly every failed to make money on trading cars, which he did often. He took it as a matter of pride to buy better and better cars for me. He was an excellent trader, and buying me cars almost almost always made him money in the long run. This time he was wrong. I kept the car, and still have it.
I never gave it a name, just The Camaro. It is a 1967, the very first year model, and the only one to have wing vents in front of the front windows. It was not one of the high performance models, but still, at 210 horsepower, is a formidable automobile. It is white, with a black vinyl roof and bright red interior. The engine is a four bolt main 327 (old style) coupled to a 2 speed Powerglide transmission. I do not know what the differential gear ratio is. It has a two barrel Rochester carburetor, so is easy on fuel for a car of its day.
This car was unusual in that it had factory installed air conditioning (sort of a problem when changing spark plugs, because you have to move the compressor to get to two of them) and power steering. It did not have vacuum assist brakes, but that is not the problem with the brakes on this model. More on that later.
Every piece of glass, except for the driver’s side outside mirror, is original. Not even a crack or chip. I does have some sand pitting, but that will polish out easily. Except for the cylinder heads and the alternator and starter, everything is original. When I get over my current unemployment problem I plan to put about $5000 into it and have a showcase, $30,000 car then. I can do almost all of the work myself.
The Camaro is not without her problems. She can GO really well, but stopping is a different question. Four wheel drum brakes all around, that needs improvement. There is a drop in replacement that requires no alteration that will trade out the front ones for disc brakes, and I plan to add that. If I ever go to sell her, I can replace them with the originals without any damage. The second alteration that I would do would be to put another drop in replacement that would convert her to electronic ignition, bypassing the points and condenser. That also leaves no marks, and can be replaced with the original.
My Camaro looks much like this, ermine white with a black vinyl roof, but this particular one is a Rally Sport whilst mine was the standard model. I would show you pictures of my particular car, but she is partially disassembled for restoration.
I drove that car routinely until 1995. About 1988 I had the engine rebuilt (well, actually my dad oversaw that operation and that is why it has the wrong heads) and it ran like a new car. This engine has only about 10,000 miles on it (I had a short commute), so it is good to go for the duration.
That was one of the most reliable cars that I ever had. She NEVER stranded me anywhere, unless it involved operator error like leaving the lights on and thus running down the battery, or running out of gasoline. I can not blame that on the car.
You how kids can find a way to get into trouble, and I was no exception. One summer I was running with my friends and we were throwing firecrackers and bottle rockets out of the windows. One of my friends had the bright idea to put firecrackers in a mailbox, and I reluctantly stopped and they did. It did not do any real damage, but I felt bad about it. I think that karma is real, because not five miles later someone had a bottle rocket get loose and it exploded on the back shelf where the supply of fireworks were, igniting all of them! We made a quick stop and got out while helplessly watching all of them go of inside the car. I never tampered with a mailbox again.
Sometimes I sort of felt like The Doctor when driving The Camaro. Remember, the TARDIS has has an isomorphous relationship with The Doctor, responding only to his (and very few others) instructions. It was almost like she could feel my directions and that I did not really have to steer or control speed, she just knew. I know that is impossible, but such was the bond that I had with that vehicle. Hardly anyone else ever drove her, except for the former Mrs. Translator when we were a one car household. Even then, I usually took her to where she needed to be and then would go back and get her.
Now, sometimes she would rebel, usually when I was being foolish. I remember one afternoon when my friend Gene and I were driving around (in the Steely Dan sense) up to no good on a rainy day near Greenwood (a very evil place) when I took a curve too fast. We skidded off of the pavement and did a 180 degree spin in the turf, but no real damage. Gene and I do remember that it happened so fast that neither of us had time to brace ourselves, except when we came to a stop my right hand was gripping his left hand tightly. It was not a sexual thing at all, our hands were the only solid objects that we could find in that split second!
The skid in the turf dismounted the two tires on Gene’s side and so flattened them. We were in dangerous territory, Greenwood being a very intolerant place for kids who were, to put it delicately, carrying cargo that was not quite legal. The judge there at the time was named Parker, and he was a direct descendant of Hanging Judge Parker of True Grit fame. In those days even simple possession meant at least jail time, and possibly prison time. Remember what said about karma?
Before the local police found us on patrol, my cousin Tim Shrum and one of his friends drove by us. They had an air compressor in the bed of their truck, and before long we had cleared the debris from the sealing surfaces of the tires and rims, and before long we were back on the road and well away from Greenwood. I dodged the bullet on that one!
I should stop now before I reveal any more personal details. Suffice it to say that I love The Camaro and promise that she will be factory new before I am done with her, and I shall then post some pictures of her. I am also looking at some new cars to buy, but I’m not sure what car yet. I have driven past my local Buick Dealer as well as others, but haven’t found anything that stands out yet! Purchasing a car is a big decision, so it’s important that you don’t rush into it. Make sure to have a look around a few car dealerships until you find the car for you. If you’re looking for a used car in Kansas City, MO, for example, you might want to visit the Conklin Cars dealership and others similar. That should help you find your dream car. Maybe I’ll find mine soon!
Please add in comments some of your experiences whilst growing up in your town, little or large. I enjoy reading your pieces, and so does everyone else.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith
Daily Kos, and